The Nature of the (Human) Beast

There are houseplants under that foot of snow.

The snow that brought Madrid to its knees was drop-dead, once-in-a-lifetime gorgeous, but before long it was dotted with frozen dog poop, we were storing a week’s worth of garbage on our balconies and shovelling snow with dustpans and ice scoops, and everybody was mad. The meteorologists had predicted the snowfall down to the centimeter. Why hadn’t the government been better prepared?

Meanwhile, in the kingdom of our household, similar questions are being asked. I knew the storm was coming, so why did I make cinnamon rolls rather than bringing all the succulents and cacti inside from the balcony?

My only defense: human nature.

This time last year, I was taking an intensive Spanish course, during which the teacher daily asked the students from China how things were going with El Virus. This was before I knew the Spanish for wave (as in third wave) or threat or curfew, and my main source of anxiety was that Holy Week was just around the corner and I had yet to make hotel reservations anywhere. The carrot of uprooting the family to Europe had been lots of travel — I needed to get on the stick.

This inability to see the big picture might have been excusable then but then in May, when I could only leave my house for groceries, I whiled away hours planning a trip to Greece for October. And then, at Christmas, I actually thought maybe we could make the trip planned for last Spring Break for this one.

And now here we are, February again, and my only defense can be: human nature.

Nineteen years ago, when my firstborn was a squalling newborn, I couldn’t fathom that she would ever go off to college. The time will fly by, my mother told me, the same thing I tell my young friend considering motherhood, but the fact was that back then all I wanted was to sleep a few hours uninterrupted and take a shower without a carseat with a baby napping in it on the bathroom floor.

To be human, to inhabit this uncomfortable human skin, requires a failure of imagination. We can’t sit beside a bed, clasping someone’s hand, and let ourselves understand that they might be gone in the morning. We can’t look down at the newborn and see the college freshman.

Early this morning, I stepped into the hallway from my bedroom and saw that the door to my eldest daughter’s bedroom was flung wide. She didn’t come home last night! I thought for an instant.

But not so— this bird had flown. The big things are so big we can’t look at them head on. Life doles out understanding bit by bit, in glorious, terrifying piecemeal.


  1. I especially love this, Katherine. Do you ever look at your daughters and wonder where the toddler went? Still there? Another bird gone. Xxxx Laura

  2. I daily look at my teenagers and wonder where the toddlers went (and where that 30-something mother went as well). They are taller than I am. Sometimes with a todderish gleam in their eyes though! Much love, K

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